Tom Watson says 'battle for the future of Labour' underway after failed bid to oust him as deputy leader
A "battle for the future of the Labour Party is underway", Tom Watson has warned, after a dramatic bid to oust him as deputy leader ran aground.
The Labour heavyweight struck a defiant tone after the unsuccessful attempt by the left-wing Momentum founder Jon Lansman to have his role abolished altogether.
Mr Lansman tabled an emergency motion at Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee on Friday, claiming Mr Watson's "disloyalty" over Brexit meant he should be axed.
But following a furious backlash from MPs and trade unions, the NEC backed Jeremy Corbyn's call for a review of the deputy leader role.
At a Labour First fringe meeting at the party's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Watson took a series of digs at the "isolated" Mr Lansman - as he urged members to resist the "destructive, corrosive impulse of factionalism".
Urging Labour moderates to act as the "partisans of pluralism", Mr Watson said: "There's a lot of hyperbole at conference but I honestly think that there is a battle for the future of the Labour party and you are the leaders of the struggle to save it - and I don't say that lightly.
"And I want you to know how much I personally appreciate your moral courage and your political determination and your collective voice that is holding this party together in a very, very difficult time."
Mr Watson later went on to criticise Mr Lansman at another fringe event, labelling him the "Lee Harvey Oswald of the Labour Party" and calling the plot to remove him "an embarrassing mess".
He received a standing ovation at a rally for the Progress group, saying the Momentum chief was "the hitman that shot himself in the foot".
And he appeared to suggest Mr Corbyn may have known about the plan in advance, despite the leader denying all knowledge.
He said: "And now everyone knows that he's just a lone wolf operator without any authorisation, and we know that's the case because on the Marr programme this morning Jeremy denied any knowledge that he would do it.
"Which all of us in this room know, means that Jeremy didn't authorise him to do it. And that's a good thing."
Continuing his attack, Mr Watson added: "It must be very lonely being the Lee Harvey Oswald of the Labour Party, as John Lansman is.
"And to cock it up in such a way, frankly is a bit incompetent isn't it?"
Labour MP Margaret Hodge - a longstanding critic of the party's handling of anti-semitism - meanwhile said those who had tried to oust Mr Watson had been "so sodding incompetent".
Arguing that some in the party now had an "obsession" with internal structures rather than battling the Conservatives, she told the same event: "We in this room need to fight back."
Speaking about the deputy leadership row this morning, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey dismissed as "fake news" suggestions that he had been involved in the bid to scrap the post.
It has been claimed that the Unite delegation to the NEC backed the move on Friday night.
But Mr McCluskey told Sky's Sophy Ridge: "The first I heard about it was when it broke in the media…this is fake news because obviously the media are looking for a story.”
Mr Corbyn meanwhile said he had been unaware that Friday's motion was going to be put forward.
He told the show: “I knew there were discussions going on about the role of deputy leader, I did not know that that particular motion was going to be put at that time…
“There was a move that didn’t happen, didn’t work and I intervened to make sure we have an open and democratic discussion about the structure of our party, and that’s where we are at."